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IBM Award to Victoria University of Wellington Supports the Murchison Widefield Array Pathfinder Project for SKA

Posted on 12-Apr-2011 21:13 | Filed under: News

A Shared University Research (SUR) Award presented to Victoria University of Wellington by IBM will strengthen Australia and New Zealand�s chances of co-hosting the world�s biggest radio telescope project (SKA), one of the largest scientific projects ever undertaken.

The IBM SUR Award of IBM high performance Graphical Processor Unit (GPU) based computer hardware, management software and implementation services, will enable Victoria University to support the Murchison Widefield Array
(MWA) project, a low frequency SKA pathfinder project hosted in Australia in collaboration with Curtin University, MIT, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Raman Research Institute.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a radically new type of radio telescope, with no moving parts, and dependent on prodigious computer power to create exquisite real-time wide-field images of the radio sky. Observing at frequencies from 80 to 300 MHz and located in the radio-quiet Western Australia Outback, the MWA will observe with unprecedented sensitivity to discover low-frequency radio phenomena that have never been seen before, and look back in time to the earliest visible history of the universe.

The MWA is an international project led by MIT Haystack Observatory, with strong collaboration from a large array of other institutions from the United States, Australia, India and now, courtesy of the SUR grant, New Zealand.

The SKA will be a new generation radio telescope 50 times more powerful than current instruments. It will be built in the Southern Hemisphere, either in Africa or Australia-New Zealand where the view of the Galaxy is the best and there is little radio interference. The decision on whether the joint Australia-New Zealand bid will host the SKA is expected in 2012.

The grant has been provided under IBM�s Shared University Research (�SUR�) Awards scheme, which aims to support research in areas of significant interest to the recipient university and IBM.

This is the second grant of this kind to be approved for a New Zealand university and highlights the significance of the SKA project to IBM. In 2009, IBM awarded a grant of IBM Cell hardware, Infosphere Streams software, and research time to Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand to explore the applicability and feasibility of these IBM technologies for SKA.

�Research collaborations between academia and industry are a vital component of breakthrough science initiatives such as SKA,� says Managing Director of IBM New Zealand, Jennifer Moxon. �IBM is the world�s largest private sector research organisation, investing US$6 billion annually in research and development. Here in New Zealand we are delighted to be able to leverage our global investment in research on a project that has the potential to deliver benefit not just to our country, but the global scientific community. In this instance, IBM's Shared University Research award program will enable Victoria University to play a fundamental role in contributing to the MWA pathfinder project and potentially strengthen the opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to host the SKA.�

�New Zealand researchers and students will have the opportunity to contribute directly to the Murchison Widefield Array, the first time we�ve been involved in an official SKA Precursor. This is a significant step forward in New Zealand�s engagement in both radio astronomy and the SKA project and we are grateful to IBM for their support,� says Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Leader Radio Astronomy Group, School of Chemical & Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington and Chair of the New Zealand SKA Research & Development Consortium.

Professor Steven Tingay, Deputy Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at the Curtin University says "The SKA will be one of the most complex and ambitious science experiments ever undertaken and the SKA Precursor telescopes have a very important part to play in informing the SKA science goals and technical design. ICRAR is delighted to be working with colleagues in New Zealand and IBM on this critical sub-system for the MWA."

IBM Australia/New Zealand SKA lead and IBM representative on the Australia Square Kilometre Array Industry Consortium (ASKAIC), Wayne Goss, says � Not only does this award support solving fundamental challenges in building real time computing and analytics capability using emerging technologies in the harsh and remote environment that the SKA demands, it also enables industry to be engaged in early SKA Research and Development that is required to build a scientific instrument at a scale that rivals the likes of the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.

Chief Technologist of IBM New Zealand, and co-chair of the NZ SKA Industry Consortium (NZSKAIC) Dougal Watt, says �This award is an important contribution by IBM towards research and development for SKA, one of the four biggest science projects of the century. IBM is excited to be working with the MWA project to understand and solve some key challenges these next-generation science instruments will generate, such as handling huge volumes of information and meeting demanding processing requirements.

Insights derived from the use of such advanced data analytics will help us develop smarter solutions to address many of the emerging challenges in society such as efficient water management or agricultural emissions."

Industry engagement and support as illustrated through this SUR Grant is critical in providing member countries targeted to fund the $2Bill SKA project confidence that the instrument can be built and offers the opportunity for industry to innovate and therefore deliver economic value back to the funding countries.

IBM Shared University Research Awards Program IBM's Shared University Research awards program strives to connect the research and researchers at universities with IBM Research, IBM Life Sciences, IBM Global Services and IBM's development and product labs. The SUR Awards program is designed to, among other things, increase access to and successful use of IBM technologies for research and in curriculum.